Wednesday evening, Opal School parents and teachers will gather to discuss the school’s approach to literacy. We’ll look at how reading, writing, and oral language is nurtured across the grades at Opal School. We’ll share what we’ve been learning through Story Workshop. In this entry, I share some of the elements of Literacy Studio, a structure guiding the third through fifth grade students at Opal School. The stories in this entry are from our fifth grade students.
What is Literacy Studio?
Literacy Studio is an approach to developing increasingly sophisticated reading and writing skills and attitudes through the application of the arts, lived experience, and mentor texts. Examining the course of study over the last month in the Opal 4 classroom provides insight into this methodology.
In Literacy Studio, we write under the influence of other authors. We read like writers, seeking guidance from the texts before us. In this month’s study, we adopted essays culled from Charles Finn’s Wild Delicate Seconds. When first introduced to the form, the students called them “Pessays” – a combination of poetry and essay. They recognized that each of the essays involved an encounter with wildlife that led to a personal discovery.
SBM: It seems like the animals are… teaching him a lesson. It’s just one little sentence – four or six words – and it’s focused on the action and how Charles Finn is changed.
WK: Most people don’t think about a toad or a spider. They look and they think, ‘That’s not worth stopping for.’ If you saw a swan, I’d stop for that.’
AA: It’s kind of a relationship that happened. The people that swerved didn’t get to have that relationship. The toad crossed for Charles Finn.
SD: I think he’s showing a tiny bit of frustration that they don’t notice the toad…
WK: He’s kind of impressed – surprised at what humans are capable of.
Levia: How can we go out with the habit necessary for writing these pieces?
HH: You have to be looking – keeping your eyes open – searching for things that are going to compel you.
Lived Experience & The Arts
For their own writing, they would use the form to explore an encounter from their trip to Camp Collins that led to a personal discovery. In many ways, the Literacy Studio approach to reading and writing finds inspiration in the writing of teachers like Ellin Keene, Katie Wood Ray and Ralph Fletcher. I see one key difference, though: As with Story Workshop, Opal teachers always ask how the arts might support our studies. To uncover their discoveries, the students turned to clay, India ink, and drama.
Following the form they identified as typical of Finn’s essays, they drafted sections focused on setting and action, spicing their writing with poetic language, building to their epiphanies. All along the way, they looked to Finn as a teacher:
RC: When you don’t know what to do next, you say, “Well, what would Charles Finn do? or What would Mary Oliver do?
Levia: What are you looking to them for?
WK: Whatever you’re stuck on.
SBM: If you’re feeling stuck, it’s a good idea to read.
RC: That’s why we have the mentor text.
RS: We’re looking for something we can steal!
Levia: What are you going to steal?
AA: I’m going to steal the mental images and the ending line.
HH: I’m going to steal how he uses all five senses.
NF: I’m going to steal metaphors.
Ezra: The last line: For me, it’s ‘Next time I’ll go higher.’
Guided by strong mentors, their lived experience, and the arts, these fifth graders are writing in their optimal zone: they are “going higher.” As the students finish their pieces, I feel lucky to be in the right place to read them.
What do you notice about Literacy Studio?
What values and principles do you think it reflects?
What do you wonder about literacy at Opal School?